Researchers identify amino acid that may play role for predicting, treating long COVID

Researchers at the University of Alberta have identified an amino acid that may play a key role in predicting outcomes and treating a severe post-COVID-19 condition, also known as long COVID.

In the study, published last week in Cell Reports Medicine, the team followed 117 Alberta patients, who were admitted to a hospital with COVID-19. The patients took blood samples upon admission and at six months. The researchers found that 55% of the patients went on to develop long COVID.

Researchers analyzed the patients’ blood for changes in proteins and metabolites, as well as signs of inflammation. They then reviewed the results using machine learning and developed a predictive model composed of 20 molecules.

In doing so, researchers were able to determine which patients with COVID-19 would go on to develop longer-term symptoms. They found their model predicted adverse clinical outcomes following discharge from acute infection with 83% accuracy, according to the study.


File: Woman lying sick in hospital. (Credit: Getty Creative)

"This research helps us understand what’s happening in the bodies of people with long COVID and could lead to better treatments and tests for them in the future," Gavin Oudit, a principal investigator of the study, said in a press release. 

The researchers found a difference in the patients’ plasma levels of the amino acid taurine.

"Patients with lower levels of taurine had a lot more symptoms, more of them were hospitalized and there was an increased risk for mortality," Oudit continued. "Patients that had high levels of taurine and maintained high levels of taurine in their blood had much fewer ongoing symptoms and did better."


Protestors chant outside the White House to call attention to those suffering from long COVID on September 19th, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Credit: Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

According to Mayo Clinic, taurine is a type of chemical that occurs naturally in foods with protein, such as meat or fish. The human body uses taurine for actions in cells, including energy production. Taurine also helps the body process bile acid and balance fluids, salts and minerals, among other actions.

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The researchers said that further study of the impact of taurine supplementation in humans is needed and are proposing a clinical trial in patients with COVID-19 to test if they can minimize long COVID.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.